Perfume Expertise

An in-depth guide on perfumes – fragrance notes and perfume categories

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The world of fragrance is a captivating realm where scents weave stories of allure and sophistication. Understanding perfume types, fragrance notes, and perfume categories is essential for navigating this aromatic landscape with finesse and confidence.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the nuances of perfumery, uncovering the secrets behind each scent and unveiling the artistry that defines the olfactory experience.

Beginners guide to Perfumes and Fragrances – Notes, ingredients and categories.

Perfumes or Fragrances mainly consist of perfume oil and alcohol. Other ingredients include fixatives, diluents, adjuvants and water. But perfume is more than just these ingredients. Perfume also contains notes and perfume categories. This article will discuss categories, ingredients, and fragrance notes and how they affect each other. We will also discuss particular perfume scent vocabulary to understand better how perfume is made.

Understanding base perfume notes:

Most perfumes, colognes and fragrances comprise top, middle, heart, and base perfume notes. Base perfume notes are typically the most important of the scent notes in a perfume because they tend to be the ones that last the longest. The base notes are going to be the heaviest and the most intense, and they will be the ones that linger long after the other smelling scents in the fragrance have faded off.

Base notes are chosen because they have strength, fixative properties and a solid scent. The base note will generally dictate which fragrance families the perfume fits into. Base notes are typically heavy, heady, intense, woody, smoky, exotic, spicy, mossy, sensual, warm, or a combination of these characteristics.

Many base perfume notes have been used for several centuries, so they are now considered rare and exotic, and they are only used in expensive and exclusive scents. Some perfume notes are also seen as needing to be more environmentally and politically correct because they were derived from animal sources, so they are much harder to come by. Luckily, many of these original base notes have been recreated as synthetic versions. In addition, there are several other base perfume notes, many of which are acquired from plant resin, tree resin, and other natural sources.

Here are some of the most common types of base perfume notes:

  • Amber: Amber is a good fixative that most people like and is derived from the fossil resin of a fir tree.
  • Ambergris: This used to be derived from sperm whales but now is a synthetically produced note for obvious reasons.
  • Opoponax: These notes smell like sweet liquorice and comes from a plant resin.
  • Patchouli: This is an earthy and sweet note known for being in incense.
  • Tonka Bean: These notes aroma like marzipan and caramel and comes from the Tonka tree’s pod in South America.
  • Musk: This is a synthetically created base note that is one of the most commonly used base notes.
  • Sandalwood: This is a widely used note from the sandalwood tree.
  • Balsam: This is a sweet-smelling resin from some plants.
  • Benzoin: This resin from the Stryax tree offers a chocolaty base note.
  • Courmarin: This base note smells like marzipan and comes from the Tonka bean.
  • Leather: Leather provides a smoky and warm scent and comes from birch and fir trees.
  • Oakmoss: Oaky and mossy, this base note comes from a lichen commonly found on the oak tree.
  • Olibarnum: This is a spicy and robust base note from the Boswellia tree.
  • Vetiver: This is a green and earthy base note from India and the Caribbean.

Understanding perfume notes and ingredients

Understanding perfume notes and ingredients

Understanding perfume notes and ingredients is the key to getting the most out of the perfumes and fragrances you buy. When you know the relationship between smell and scent, you can better choose the aromas that will meet your needs.

Here are some of the most commonly used perfume scents and notes you should know.

  • Absinthe: This perfume note is a robust herbal liqueur distilled with liquorice, anise, hyssop, fennel, veronica, angelica, lemon balm and wormwood.
  • Absolute: “Absolute” is the word for essence, the material extracted from a flower or plant to create perfume notes.
  • Accord: Perfume accords are perfume scents that are comprised of three or four different notes that are balanced together, losing their identities in the process.
  • Agar Wood: This comes from the Aquilaria tree, an aromatic resin produced when the tree is under attack by a fungus. It has been famous as an incense and perfume notes source in the Middle East.
  • Amber: Accords called amber were developed to mimic the ambergris scent since ambergris is no longer used to create perfume notes.
  • Ambergris: This is a secretion from the sperm whale that was initially used as a fixative but now is only synthetically developed in perfume notes such as Amberlyn, Ambroxan and Ambrox. Ambergris has a scent that is woody and sweet.
  • Ambrette: This is the oil that is obtained from seeds with a musk-like odour. Ambrette is commonly used instead of natural musk, which is animal derived.
  • Animalic: This refers to ingredients and perfume notes that are animal derived, including musk, divet, ambergris and castoreum. In modern-day perfumery, these ingredients are typically replaced by synthetic perfume notes.
  • Anise: This herb from the parsley family is grown for the fruits it produces aniseed. The fruits have a flavour that is strong and liquorice-like.
  • Anosmia: This is known as the inability to be able to smell odours. Many people have selective anosmia, meaning they cannot smell certain scents.
  • Artemisia: This is another word for wormwood.
  • Attar: This is the English form of the word it, which is the Arabic word representing fragrance or perfume. Traditional attars are made of distilled floral essences with a sandalwood oil base.
  • Baies de Genièvre: This is the French word for juniper berry.
  • Baies Rose: This is another name for pink peppercorns, which come from a tree known as Schinus Molle. This tree is also known as either the Peruvian pepper tree or the Californian pepper tree. These are berries that have been dried rather than actual peppercorns. Sometimes they are referred to as pink berries.
Understanding perfume notes and ingredients

We at ScentForMe believe that every perfume or fragrance is unique, but many shares common traits and are categorised into specific perfume families or categories. Likewise, every scent can be put into a family, grouping it with several other similar fragrances.

Here is what you need to know about perfume families and categories and how they work. Remember that this is mainly subjective, and you may also have your take on perfume categories.

All perfume fragrances are different. If fragrances primarily have fresh notes with some citrus or woody weaker notes, then this is a Fresh fragrance with woody and citrus undertones. The dominant part of the fragrance is the heart of the perfume fragrance.

Male fragrances are capable of being divided into several different perfume categories. The number of varying perfume categories depends on who you talk to.

Commonly there are four primary perfume categories: Citrus, Oriental, Chypre and Fougere. Then you took these perfume categories and divided them further into subcategories.

On the other hand, feminine fragrances have different floral-based categories, and they do not typically feature the Fougere group of perfumes that is especially popular in men’s fragrances.

Here is a brief look at each of these perfume categories:

  • Fougere: This is one of the most popular perfume categories for men’s fragrances, and many contain lavender and oak moss. The term is French for the word “fern”. The first Fougere fragrance was called Fougere Royale by Houbigant.
  • Floral: Most feminine fragrances fall into the floral category. Some feature one floral scent, while others combine flowery scents.
  • Oriental: This perfume category is widespread for both men and women. Oriental fragrances are sweet, spicy and warm, commonly containing Tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood.
  • Chypre: This category of fragrances contains mossy, woody and floral notes such as patchouli, bergamot, oakmoss, sandalwood and vetiver. This group of perfumes has been named after a 1917 fragrance called Chypre that Coty released. Several examples make up this category. Chypre is French for the word Cyprus, where many of its typical notes are derived from.
  • Marine: This family of fragrances is still relatively new. It is used to describe any scent fragrance that evokes a feeling of the ocean air. The most common ingredient that creates this marine scent is known as Calone.
  • Citrus: Some of the earliest colognes fell into this family, and these citrus scents are still popular today. Citrus perfume fragrances are both fresh and invigorating. Some aromas are primarily citrus, while others have citrus undertones.
Perfume Scents Vocabulary

Perfume Scents Vocabulary

The first thing you will want to keep in mind when you are enjoying perfume scents is that the perfume must be allowed to breathe, oxidizing, before you can get an accurate impression of what the smell is all about. So, breathing in and smelling the perfume scent right out of the bottle will not accurately represent the perfume scent. The best way to achieve this is to allow it to air out on your skin or to spray it on a test strip, for example.

The next thing you will want to keep in mind is the vocabulary for perfume scents. Here are some terminology and terms you should know regarding perfume scents.

Vocabulary/Terminology for perfume scents and meaning.

  • Accord: This is when you blend two or more different scents to produce a new fragrance.
  • Body: This is the central theme of any perfume scent and is also known as the heart or the middle of the fragrance.
  • Base Notes: Also known as bottom notes, base notes are the ingredients that are the least volatile, meaning that they are the slowest ones to evaporate away. They give the fragrance its long-lasting qualities. Bottom and base notes are also commonly known as fixatives.
  • Bridge: This is the transition from one of the notes to another within a perfume fragrance. The bridge defines the smoothness of this particular transition.
  • Dry Down: This is the last and final phase of all perfume scents, comprised of all of the fragrance’s base notes.
  • Middle Note: The middle is the body of the perfume’s composition, also known as the heart, and it reveals not only the character of the perfume scents but also their family classification. The middle notes typically become apparent once the top notes evaporate, within 10 or 20 minutes.
  • Note: These are the different components of the fragrance, which fall into one of the three distinct phases of the fragrance’s evaporative profile.
  • Thread: The thread is a perfume’s capability of harmoniously flowing from each phase to the next in a smooth and complete manner.
  • Top Note: This is the first scent impression that perfume scents give off. The top note comprises the ingredients that become apparent immediately after applying the fragrance to the skin. The top notes generally only last for approximately 10 to 20 minutes.

Now that you have a better idea of what makes perfume scents, you can better take advantage of those perfume scents that you purchase and use.


About Raymond King

Meet Raymond King, South Africa's Foremost Fragrance Expert. Raymond King is a nose and director of ScentForMe Perfume shop. As one of South Africa's leading perfume and fragrance experts.